Sibir leads the series 1-0
Harri Sateri backstopped Sibir to victory in its first playoff game since 2016, making 37 saves to frustrate Avtomobilist. Sibir thus becomes the first team to collect a road win in this year’s post season.
The Yekaterinburg team took to the ice without two key forwards. Neither Pavel Datsyuk nor Anatoly Golyshev were available due to injury and there was another absence at the back as Denis Bodrov undergoes treatment.
Sibir, by contrast, was at full strength as Nikolai Zavarukhin & Co took the team into the playoffs after a long and frustrating wait. That didn’t mean the visitor was able to go tearing into the opposition from the first faceoff. Avtomobilist made a solid start to the game and looked to be having the better of the first period until late in the frame, Sibir got in front. Alexander Sharov and Juuso Puustinen found a surprisingly easy path through the home defense; the Finn tucked away the opening goal on the backhand.
Avto responded with a flurry of shots at Sateri as it looked for an immediate equalizer, but the Finn was equal to the task. And the Motormen began the second session in the same attacking frame of mind, but continued to struggle to test Sateri. Sibir was holding its opponent at arm’s length and then had a great chance to extend its lead when two penalties gave it a full two minutes of 5-on-3 hockey. The visitor opted against a fusillade of shots at Jakub Kovar, looking instead for the perfect moment to unlock the home defense, but the home team held on to kill the penalties and stay in the game.
The third period was one-way traffic. Avtomobilist camped in the Sibir zone, working hard to find a way to level the scores. However, for all the probing, the home team was limited to 11 shots on goal and the game was decided in the last minute when Evgeny Chesalin – who left Yekaterinburg in the summer – broke away to score into the empty net.
Ak Bars leads the series 1-0
This Tatar derby saw Ak Bars overcome its local rival – but the comfortable final scoreline belies the battle that Neftekhimik put up during the game.
In regular season, the teams were far apart. Ak Bars topped the Eastern Conference, while Neftekhimik needed a heroic late run to force its way into the playoffs at all. But that gap was far from apparent on the ice when the game got underway.
Over the first two periods, the visitor proved a match for its illustrious opponent. Despite allowing a couple of early goals, Neftekhimik kept plugging away. One goal was recovered fast and over the first 40 minutes, Timur Bilyalov was busier than Konstantin Barulin in an evenly-matched game.
However, Ak Bars has the offensive power to break through in tight encounters and the Kazan team proved it once again here. A slick counter attack in the eighth minute brought the opening goal, with Stanislav Galiyev and Artyom Galimov quickly feeding Matt Frattin in the right-hand circle. The Canadian wired a wrister over Barulin’s glove to make it 1-0. Then a breakdown on the home blue line sent Emil Galimov away from three opponents and through on goal, where he solved Barulin to double the lead.
Kirill Petrov missed a good chance to make it 3-0 – and probably extinguish the visitor’s hopes inside the first 15 minutes. But that attempt went wide and Neftekhimik responded by going down the ice and fashioning a fine goal in reply. Jacob Berglund led the play before switching the puck to Marat Khairullin, who fired home from between the hash marks.
That set us up for a second period where both teams urgently sought to find the net. For Neftekhimik, of course, it was vital not to allow Ak Bars to extend its lead once more; for the home side, the comfort of a bigger lead would make all the difference as the game progressed. In the event, though, neither team could get a goal despite displaying more open hockey in the middle frame.
Then came the decisive moment. Early in the third, Mikhail Glukhov led a two-man rush with Emil Galimov. Bearing down on Barulin’s net he eschewed the simple pass to his team-mate in the center and improvised a ‘penalty shot’, dumping the goalie to the ice before squeezing the puck into the empty net. This time, there was no coming back for Neftekhimik. Galiyev set up Frattin for his second of the night and the final score was just one short of a repeat of the last Tatar playoff series seven years ago. On that occasion, Ak Bars began with a 5-1 home win; today it had to settle for four.